(1898-1980) UK folklorist and writer who began her career with The Legend of Maiden-Hair (1915), a tale for children published by a vanity press, and with plays like The Garrulous Lady (1931). Only after WWII did she publish The Personnel of Fairyland: A Short Account of the Fairy People of Great Britain for Those Who Tell Stories to Children (1953), the first of many studies and surveys, the most important almost certainly being A Dictionary of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures (1976; vt An Encyclopedia of Fairies 1977 US; cut vts A Sampler of British Folk-tales 1977 UK and British Folk-tales 1977 US). In this and other works KMB significantly helped accelerate the slow growth of understanding, during the 20th century, of the cultural importance and intrinsic narrative interest of the oral Folklore tradition. Along with the UK scholars of the preceding generation, who had concentrated on folksong, her work came just as the final authentic bearers of folk traditions were reaching their last years.
Her first novel, Hobberdy Dick (1955), is historical fantasy set in the 17th century: it complexly opposes the traditional world of Faerie to the Thinning influence of Puritan Christianity, as seen through a complicated triangular conflict between a Puritan paterfamilias, a Witch, and the eponymous brownie. KMB's only other novel, Kate Crackernuts (1963; rev 1979), in which a wicked Stepmother hires a witch to give her stepdaughter the head of a sheep, is a psychological drama; the intensity of the Rite of Passage undergone by the protagonists can easily be understood as translating the fantasy elements into adolescent psychosis.
KMB's fiction, though highly sensitive to the folkloric material it presents, seems never to have captured her full interest. She is now best remembered for the seminal importance, and exemplary clarity, of her scholarly work. [JC]
other works (for younger children): The Witches' Ride (1937); Stories Arranged for Mime (coll 1937), plays; The Prince, the Fox, and the Dragon (1938).
other works (nonfiction): The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs Among Shakespeare's Contemporaries and Successors (1959); Pale Hecate's Team: An Examination of the Beliefs on Witchcraft and Magic Among Shakespeare's Contemporaries and His Immediate Successors (1962); The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (1967; vt The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature 1967 US); A Dictionary of British Folk-tales in the English Language: Folk Narratives (1970; vt Folk-tales 1970 US) both in 2 vols; Folk Legends (1971) in 2 vols; The Vanishing People: A Study of Traditional Fairy Beliefs (1977); Abbey Lubbers, Banshees and Boggarts: A Who's Who of Fairies (1979).
Katharine Mary Briggs